Friday, November 20, 2009

The power and beauty of language

My sister Emi's equivalent to a blog is her deviantART journal, and I absolutely loved a recent entry of hers on her love of language, so I wanted to share a couple of excerpts here.

I've been thinking a lot about the power of language lately. You can describe a simple thing with tons of words, and you can describe an indefinably large abstract idea with only a few. You can discover a myriad of things about cultures, time periods, places, and individuals through what words they use. You can learn the attitude of a society from the language they use and how they use it. You can blow someone's mind with a single sentence and talk for hours straight without saying a single thing they care about.

It's all kind of incredible... I have, like most people, used language since I was a very small child, and I've written stories, poems, essays and more since I was a slightly older child, but I don't think I've ever put as much thought into words and language as I have in the past half a year. Learning Japanese has opened up my eyes to all sorts of grammatical subtleties, rules, and terms, all of which I knew but never really considered as such. I can speak and write with proper grammar, but I'd never really thought about why one sentence made grammatical sense and another one didn't. It's very interesting to look at, at least for me...
I've also developed a lot of interest in poetry. I used to read poems with my mom and sister when I was younger, and I liked some of them well enough, but I was just never really into poetry. My recent interest with all poetry was sparked by my interest in Haiku. The way a few words, so strictly contained by the number of syllables that have to be used, can evoke such powerful emotions and images is completely incredible. Reading haiku (and reading about haiku) helped to solidify thoughts I was having on the power of words. Reading Haiku in the original Japanese, seeing the patterns of syllables and the visual beauty, is wonderful for me. To think, not only does a Haiku share a moment and emotion along with many more potential layers of philosophical meaning, it also has a flow to it, a beauty to the sound and placement of the words, and all of that while still conforming to the rules of five, seven, five. It's seriously mind blowing to me.

It's funny: there are some things in life I feel discouraged about when I see reminders of how little I can really do, or when I look at the work of maters of that craft, but writing is not one of those things. When I see reminders of how far I still have to go, I feel inspired to write write write until I get there! I feel inspired by the great works I read, whether it be great work by published authours, other amateur writers, poets, or even non-fiction writers. Seeing words used well, to convey beauty, power, eloquence, humour, facts, or any number of other things, is a wonderful, fun, moving, insightful thing. Writing really is a huge passion of mine...
All these thoughts kind of make me wonder how all the people out there who use words every day of their life never bother to really look at the language they're speaking or appreciate it at all...

Just reading that reminds me how much I love language as well!  It's such a powerful, beautiful thing.  You should also keep in mind that my unschooled sister has never had a grammar or writing lesson in her life.  What a great harm my parents did by keeping her out of school, eh?  I love reading her work, and it makes me so proud of her seeing the wonderful stuff she creates!  Yeah, I'm a proud big sister. :-P



  1. That's very inspiring, and great writing! Did I tell you about the book I've been recently reading? It's called "The Stuff Of Thought: Language As A Window Into Human Nature", by Steven Pinker, who's a Canadian linguist. If you ever have a chance to find a copy (likely might be in the public library) I would highly recommend it - I bet you both would probably like it. It goes in depth into how we learn language, how kids intuit the rules of grammar and what that says about our thought process, and that sort of thing. Very provocative stuff.

    I also *really* love John Zerzan's essay 'Language: Its Origin and Meaning'. It's a primitivist perspective so obviously it's critical and somewhat negative about language and its inherent limits and problems, but is still really thought-provoking.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, it sounds very interesting! I just checked, and our library even has it. :-) Sounds like the book discusses some of the stuff Emi and I have been talking about lately, too, which makes me even more curious to read it...

    I have rather mixed feelings on what little I've read by Zerzan, but his writing is definitely thought provoking...